How HUMPTY DUMPTY and AC/DC Fall … Into Place

My first goal when writing is to keep the spirit of the narrative consistent and I find listening to the right music keeps me on track. My guiding light for HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  I blasted that bad boy thousands of times and every time I did it felt like a shot of adrenaline to the heart and a kick to the head that put me exactly in the mind-space I wanted to be.

For starters the opening guitar riff creates an intense mood of expectancy. You hear it and you know something big is about to happen. Me, I get so charged, I don’t know whether to start dancing’ or throw myself out a window. Really.

Now once the drums, bass and vocals kicks in several things hit me that are consistent with the kind of writing I want to do. First the over the top machismo of the lead singer, Brian Johnson‘s, ruff vocal quality says “I am fearless. I will bare my soul”. Me, I want to own that.

Then the over the top images conveyed by the barrage of assertive words… She was a fast machine/ She kept her motor clean/ She was the best damn woman that I ever seen… in the context of the kick ass track speaks that the man telling his story has extreme confidence. In fact he’s so confident he is able to mock himself. I want to own that too. I love people who can make fun of themselves and this recording is the ultimate example of one that allows the listener to experience both the intense emotion of “being there” while at the same time be distant enough to see the ridiculousness of it all.

And finally like all good writing there’s the coup de gras, denouement, the cherry on top, stupefying, satisfying explosive ending; in this case, that massively thick Gregorian chant-like chorus behind which a contrapuntal guitar riff takes the emotional level to new heights. When it comes I feel the pure joy of expectation superceded, that kind of emotion that comes when something unpredictable is delivered, a thunderbolt jolt of satisfaction.

I want my writing to be fast, fearless, intense, faster and funny and end with a knock out punch. I want to take the reader to places that are so intense he gets to the point that he can’t decide whether to put the book down because he doesn’t want it to end or finish it to put an end to the intense experience of reading it. “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the way I feel when I hear it, is the epitome of that experience.

Way back when, I was fortunate enough to write a song with the legendary rocker Willie Nile.

The chorus goes:

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This

Every now and then there’s a momentary bliss

You’ve Got To Be A Buddha In A Place Like This.

Cranking up “You Shook Me All Night Long” is my fast track ticket to momentary bliss, which is my destination of first choice when I’m about to write.

If you’ve read HUMPTY I would like to know if you imagined a soundtrack to it. Writer/director Raymond de Felitta, who is doing a film version, asked me for musical suggestions. While I‘ve been tuned into a lot contemporary music by artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, I plan to do a lot more listening before making recommendations, so far the list is short and consists of classics:

AC/DC                                        You Shook Me All Night Long

Run DMC/Aerosmith             Walk this Way

Grand Master Flash                 The Message

What I’m Learning

One of the most rewarding parts of publishing my first novel has been the support and encouragement I’ve received from readers but also from other writers.  WOW.  I can’t believe how generous they’ve been! I should not be surprised, though….

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a personal friendship with the Grand Master author, Evan Hunter: you might know him as Ed McBain, author of the much praised 87th Precinct novels.  His early work includes the somewhat autobiographical novel The Blackboard Jungle; he also penned the screenplay for Hitchcock’s The Birds adapted from DuMaurier’s short story of the same name.

I met him through his son Richard-who is now a master harmonica player and author- when we were high school kids playing in a band together. In my freshman and junior years in college he and I worked together as composer/lyricists on a show Evan had written called “Hard Times”. It was a very close fluid collaboration and Evan encouraged me to find a way to bring my free-floating fiction ideas to the page, which I did in song form. Like my book my songs were often based on a character in a situation that has all of the potential to be long form but never was. A good example is the song that got me and my partner Larry Gottleib nominated for a Grammy, The Four Tops Hit “When She Was My Girl”. The bridge is When she was my girl, there was laughter and loving in my world everyday.  When she was my girl, oh what joy she would bring now I’ve lost every thing she’s gone. The great soul singer for the group, Levi Stubbs added The big legged girl is gone, which we thought was genius.

Years later, I’ve finally got to create characters and situations in a long form by writing HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED. Better late than never

Evan had great advice for writers.  He told me the reason he was successful is that “I finish  what I start. Lots of guys give up. ” To a teenager trying to figure out why some people succeed while so many others fail in life, it made a very strong impression about how much of success has to do with the work ethic. That little piece of wisdom was a real wake-up call.

Since the publication of HUMPTY DUMPTY, I’ve heard from authors I’ve read and loved, and from some I have only recently discovered.  This includes the amazing Ken Bruen, who was a good friend of Evan’s, and whose dark novels of suspense are original, intense and compelling.  What I am discovering is that authors are also mentors, and cheerleaders.  I’m immensely proud of my novel, and this new community of like-minded scribes is a bonus I never anticipated.

Let me know who inspires you, in writing and reading.  What’s the most inspirational thing you’ve read or heard another author say?  Leave a comment.